The U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for a $1 billion settlement between the National Football League and former players experiencing concussion-related health issues.
The Court declined to hear an appeal of a lower court decision to uphold approval of the settlement, which will lead to thousands of ex-players receiving millions of dollars in payments from the NFL. Opponents claim the settlement does not go far enough in helping former players.
U.S. District Judge Anita Brody approved the settlement in April 2015 in Philadelphia. A group of players then filed an appeal of the decision, but in April 2016, the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia upheld the settlement agreement. The Supreme Court decided not to consider an appeal of the Third Circuit Court’s decision.
NFL officials are “pleased that the Supreme Court has decided not to review the unanimous and well-reasoned decisions” of the lower courts, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told Reuters.
Opponents of the decision said the settlement will not cover all the former NFL players experiencing health issues. “The settlement will leave most NFL players on the sidelines, even those most affected by the long-term effects of concussions,” Deepak Gupta, an attorney representing players who appealed the settlement, told Reuters.
The NFL has been under fire for many years since medical researchers began making a connection between repeated concussions and health conditions suffered in later years by players. Evidence has been found linking playing the sport with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive degenerative disease of the brain.
Medical professionals can only detect CTE in brain autopsies. Researchers have linked the disease to many deceased former players, including Kevin Turner (of the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots) and Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau (of the San Diego Chargers, Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots).
Jeff Miller, the NFL’s executive vice president for health and safety, admitted a connection between concussions and CTE in testimony before a congressional committee.
Five thousand players joined the class action lawsuit. As many as 21,000 could receive payments through the settlement. The NFL expects to begin payments in the spring of 2017.
The NFL makes about $12 billion in annual revenue.
The settlement includes caps for what a player can get paid by the NFL, based on the medical condition. It includes the following amounts, according to National Public Radio:
As noted by Andrew Brandt, Director of the Jeffrey S. Moorad Center for the Study of Sports Law, Villanova University School of Law, the Supreme Court decision finally clears the way for players who have suffered brain-related health problems to start getting money.
“End of the road on appeals, benefits will now process and move forward,” Brandt wrote on his Twitter page.